“Independent bookselling is over,” says 62-year-old Vincent McCaffrey, who dates both the death of the book and of independent bookstores to 2004 and the closing of his nearly 30-year-old bookstore, Avenue Victor Hugo Bookshop in Boston’s Back Bay. Not that that’s stopped him from selling books online at AvenueVictorHugo.com or penning a trio of whodunits set in Boston about a bookseller, or book hound.
In another unusual twist, the first book in the series, Hound (Sept.), about a book dealer whose former lover is found murdered, will be published by two of his ex-booksellers, Gavin Grant and Kelly Link, who founded Small Beer Press nine years ago in Easthampton, Mass. “Having a chance to print a book like this and to extend the relationship is a lot of fun,” says Grant, who has known McCaffrey for 15 years. The only unusual element in the negotiations that he cites was the author’s insistence on Baskerville type.
In a “phantom interview” with himself posted on his Web site (set in Baskerville), McCaffrey says that he wrote Hound specifically to deal with the book’s demise. “I had a story in mind about the death of the book after 500 years,” he writes. “This medium has changed everything, more than any other since the invention of fire, and the world it created is dependent on the book in ways which have become subtle through the familiarity of everyday use. It seemed most odd to me that the very people who depended on the book the most are least aware of its demise.”
Fortunately, even if the book is dead, there are still many pleasures to be had reading Hound, which was selected by both the Mysterious Bookshop in New York City and Poisoned Pen in Phoenix and Scottsdale for their First Mystery Book Clubs. Link compares McCaffrey’s debut to Avenue Victor Hugo itself, “crammed with stories [and] with likable, eccentric characters.... it’s rich in detail and knowledgeable asides about bookselling, the world of publishing, and life lived in the pubs, shabby apartments, penthouses and strange corners of the city of Boston.”
McCaffrey will tour the Northeast, with stops at the NEIBA trade show in Hartford, Conn.; Brookline Booksmith in Brookline, Mass.; Jamaica Way Books in Jamaica Plain, Mass.; and RiverRun in Portsmouth, N.H. He will also participate in a panel at the Mysterious Bookshop with three Brooklyn booksellers at various stages of their careers: Jessica Stockton Bagnulo, co-owner of Greenlight Bookstore; Christine Onorati, owner of WORD; and Henry Zook, co-owner of BookCourt. In addition, McCaffrey will appear at this year’s Bouchercon in Indianapolis.